The stage at Playhouse Merced has been transformed into a down-at-the-heels bohemian art community set in New York City for the production of the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Rent,” opening this weekend.
“We have created a run-down homeless art camp of forgotten treasure set in New York streets between Avenue A and B right here on the Playhouse Merced stage,” said Corey Strauss, the director, set designer and choreographer. “It is like a huge found object sculpture that feels like home. ... It has been interesting styling the set down to the last pile of street garbage to feel cozy, dirty, and an artistic look at ‘Rent’s’ time and place in our recent musical theater history.”
The story about a group of bohemian artists living on the East Side of New York City is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème.”
“I have always loved the music and the aesthetic of this time period,” Strauss said. “The mid-’90s grungy New York scene. I love how the show feels like an opera. This story is of love, loss, drugs, rock-and-roll and the moments in between each breath that bond us together over and over again. The show also shows a slice in time where AIDS was at arm’s length and a real unknown fear.”
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The story centers around seven friends striving to create art and music while struggling to make ends meet. With music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, “Rent” features songs “Seasons of Love,” “La Vie Bohème,” “Light My Candle” and “Take Me or Leave Me.”
Actress Rachel Rodrigues, who plays Mimi Marquez, has enjoyed playing a part that is a complete departure from her previous roles.
“Most of my roles have either been sort of Disney-esque, or they’re small, quirky characters,” she said. “Mimi is sexy and strong and has a compelling back story, and it was really exciting to have the chance to do something.”
The theme of the story pervades every scene.
“The story is about love. Entirely,” Rodrigues said. “And it shows love in so many different forms: close friendship, romantic love, compassionate love, love of art, love of a lifestyle, love of a place.
It shows how losing someone who makes you a better person can make your life a living hell, but it still reminds you that your life will go on, and the changes they made to your life don’t have to disappear. Love still exists, in all those forms, and love will prevail.”
Her favorite part of the production is the song “No Day But Today.”
“It’s sort of the anthem of the show,” Rodrigues said, from the fun moments where everyone is entirely rocking out to the quiet moments of grief, there really is no day but today. You never know what’s going to happen to you, and you can’t change what already has. That feeling is laced throughout the show.”
Playhouse Merced’s production of “Rent” is musically directed by Darrel Lingenfelter and features a Central Valley cast that includes GB Blackmon III, Uriah Brown, Rachel De Vera, TaNayiah Bryels, Patti Feliciano, Sarah Jane Katen, Sergio Lopez, Alexandra Mains, Karlyn Rahmgren, Val Reyes, Matthew Sanchez, Katy Uyeno, Jeshamon Volkerts and Zakkary Walls.